Fact OR Fiction v1.8

Welcome to another installment of Fact OR Fiction here at InsideTheDome. In this segment we field certain statements from fans to be answered by our Blue Jays expert Lee Ferguson. He will debate on the topic and provide you with reasonable evidence that answers the question - Fact or Fiction? In this week's edition Lee analyzes if Gabe Gross will be starting in the outfield for the Blue Jays in 2006.


Gabe Gross will be starting in the outfield for the Blue Jays in 2006.

This week at InsideTheDome, we will to glare into the future and attempt to shore up the Toronto outfield situation for the 2006 season. The spotlight this week glares upon a former Quarterback at the University of Auburn, Gabe Gross.

The 6'3" native of Baltimore, Maryland, had a storied career at the University of Auburn where he starred as a two-sport athlete. He was the quarterback of the Auburn Tigers football team and actually started six games before settling on baseball where he was an outfielder. The change paid off as the Toronto Blue Jays selected the young slugger with their 1st Round selection and 15th overall pick in the 2001 Amateur Entry Draft.

Having played at quarterback, the Jays new Gross had an impressive arm, but he could also swing the bat. In his first season at Auburn in 1999, he hit .363 with 7 Home Runs and 67 RBI. He performed even better in his sophomore season, hitting an astonishing .430 with an on-base percentage of .536 with 13 Home Runs and 86 RBI in only 61 games. Gabe was starting to appear on everyone's radar, even Team USA's, but was shockingly cut from the team even after his great season. Gross continued to show flashes of brilliance with his bat in 2001 and the Jays, who were looking for a slugger that they could fast-track to the majors, did not hesitate, selecting him – making the rest is, recent history.

Gross would get off to a fast start after being drafted, ripping up Single-A Dunedin, batting .302, prompting a promotion to Double-A Tennessee. It would take him a while to get accustomed to the pitching at that level. Pitchers had more of an idea of what they wanted to do there and Gabe struggled to find his niche for two straight seasons. He would finally emerge in 2003 as the player the Jays had seen at Auburn, batting .319, deserving enough of a trip to Triple-A Syracuse, where he would hold his own for the remainder of the year, hitting .264.

Gabe has been labeled as a player who needs a year or so to get accustomed to his surrounding in a new league. So after his decent half year in Syracuse, it was no surprise when he continued to improve, raising his batting average to .294 and earning a late season call-up to Toronto in August of 2004. Gross would get his first major league hit in Yankee Stadium in his major league debut on August 7th, and two days later would slug his first home run off Esteban Loaiza, a key blast that helped Toronto defeat the Yankees 5-4.

Coming into 2005, Gabe was ready for the next step, and be apart of a Toronto outfield that would hold three former 1st Round picks in Vernon Wells in center, Alex Rios in right with Gross in left, but the Blue Jays had signed Frank Catalanotto to a two-year deal in the off-season keeping Gross stuck at Triple-A for some more seasoning. Problem was, someone must have forgotten to tell Gross, as he tore it up in Spring Training, hitting .365 and tying a previously held record by Carlos Delgado by hitting 8 home runs, forcing himself onto the 25-Man Roster, thanks to a Ted Lilly injury, allowing Gross to get some playing time before the left-hander was due to come off the disabled list.

The power that had found his bat in Spring Training was gone, as Gross went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts in four games, and later went 0-for-5 in a brief call-up in May. Gross would be sent down to Syracuse in hopes of regaining his stroke.

After continuing his drought of the long-ball in Triple-A, Gabe began to hit like the Gabe of old. Thru June 15th, Gross was hitting .272 with 3 HR's and 24 RBI's in 54 games. That prompted the Blue Jays to recall him just this past weekend on June 17th. But here's the problem. Toronto needed an extra outfielder because Vernon Wells and his wife were expecting the birth of their second child and was merely brought up to play sparingly if at all for the three-game set. It wasn't without a glimmer of satisfaction though as Gabe recorded his first hit of the 2005 season with the Jays with a single in the ninth off Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow.

It remains to be seen what the Jays will do as I write this segment, since Vernon Wells is expected back for today's game against the Baltimore Orioles, prompting an impending move. It will most likely be Gross, who is sent down to Syracuse to make room, thus continuing a frustrating time for the Baltimore native.

So that brings us to our topic of this week – ‘Can Gabe Gross become a fixture in the Toronto outfield next season?'. It's hard to predict a cheerful outcome for the former Auburn Tiger, with the Blue Jays stockpiled with outfielders; Wells, Rios, Catalanotto and Reed Johnson. Could a deadline deal clear up Gabe's hazy picture and warrant a more secure position on Toronto's 25-Man Roster?

In recent years, interest in Catalanotto has been non-existent, and for someone to take his 2.75M salary for the rest of this season and next, for a team that may only use him as a bat off the bench is pricey. Reed Johnson is the ultimate utility-man have around so it's doubtful he'd be leaving. So that leaves Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. I believe you can toss Wells out of the mix. It's very unlikely the Jays would want to trade such a big commodity in Wells without a viable replacement in place. Alex Rios, who has shown he can hit for a good average, can steal a few bases and owns a strong outfield arm, might be the only possible choice. But here's the thing…the Blue Jays have had a reputation of giving up on players too early, only to find them flourish elsewhere a couple years down the road. I point to players like Michael Young, Cesar Izturis and just recently, Felipe Lopez as current cases. It is doubtful Toronto would want to make the same mistake again, if, or should I say when, Rios' power comes to life.

If Toronto cannot find room for Gross next season, he might very well be traded, as the Atlanta Braves had shown interest in the outfielder at the beginning of the season. Or he could just have to wait, and wait, until something gives, whether it is a trade or the departure of Catalanotto after his contract expires after the conclusion of the 2006 season. The picture is too cloudy for Gross and it appears more and more likely that time is against him in Toronto, making the above statement certainly – FICTION!

Tune in next week as we take a look at the Toronto Blue Jays and the rest of the season that lies ahead, and also how we see it panning out!

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